The story of Bruce Onobrakpeya's exhibition, Façade, as told by its Curator Kennii Ekundayo
Bruce Onobrakpeya’s exhibition, Façade, at Art 21 is fantastic. It’s like a holiday, but instead going to the beaches of the Gambia or dancing through the nightclubs of Nairobi, you’ve gone to a forbidden forest of forgotten things and dreams, a place inhabited by legends and myths; a strange mysterious corner of the world where magic exists. I wrote about it here: click this link.
When I first wrote about it, I was so focused on the artist, that I neglected to see the role of the exhibition’s curator Kennii Ekundayo, a curator of modern and contemporary African art. Bruce Onobrakpeya painted the work, but it was she that built the world. After I published it, she reached out to me on twitter with a note. “Thank you for visiting the show - as well as your piece on it. However, I’m sure you’d agree that your writing about a show as this isn’t quite whole without a reference to the curator who threaded the entire project together to form what is now enjoyed as ‘Façade.’”
She was right. I have since rectified my oversight. Creative work is difficult we must never fail to recognise its engineers. When we do, we give the impression that it’s easy, that good things like Facade fall from the sky like mana from heaven, fully formed and ready for consumption. I suppose it would be lovely if they did, but in this world, they do not. Bruce Onobrakpeya created, Kennii Ekundayo curated, and she did this in the middle of a panoramic pandemic. She deserves all her flowers.
I asked her some questions about the exhibition, and she was good enough to answer.
Why did you decide to put this exhibition together?
My premier curatorial encounter with Bruce Onobrakpeya was upon the 60th anniversary of his studio practice when I was invited by Freedom Park Lagos to curate a planned exhibition with the artist. This exhibition, Beauty and the Machine, would be the first in a planned series of commemorative shows.
On my end, I sought for more mediums to celebrate this incredible feat of Papa Bruce as I fondly call him hence creating a partnership with a Californian university to curate a retrospective exhibition on him that has sadly been postponed due to the effects of the pandemic. However, I did not want to delay the rhythm but to continue the string of shows now in tandem with the soon-coming retrospective which led to an exhibition proposal to the management of the esteemed art space, Art Twenty One who graciously accepted to collaborate with me in realising the exhibition now known to all as Façade.
What would you say Bruce Onobrakpeya’s place in Nigeria’s creative space is?
Bruce Onobrakpeya’s place in the country’s creative sector is not one to be disputed. Decades of consistent, resilient and diligent artistic practice have resulted to him being a globally-recognised institution.
He has been a bridge between the modern and contemporary African Art scene— effortlessly keeping the torch left behind by elder-artists such as Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu and co burning while also leaving footprints for genuine artistic pursuit to the generations of artists that succeed him.
For all it is worth, I am very glad that unlike the proverbial prophet, this artist is recognised and celebrated in his hometown and, internationally.
How did you find putting the exhibition together in the middle of a pandemic. Did you have any concerns? Did it present any particular challenges?
Adaptability is the one element that assures the ‘survival of the fittest.’ The truth is that simpler activities such as going to the market or even leaving your home to another location are as a result of adapting to our current reality and devising methods to work around it. It is why people are able to go about their regular work routines and I, about creating exhibitions albeit in semi-normal manners.
Designing new art projects was my coping mechanism through the lockdown period and some of the highlights from my plans, I was able to fit into the layout for Façade. I must also mention the role of Art Twenty One’s ingenious staff who were hands-on and assisted greatly in the production of the show. With such reliable team in the picture, challenges presented by the pandemic were surmountable and together, we have been able to present a show that observes all necessary COVID-19 protocols.
How has the response to Façade been so far? Are you happy with it?
It has been enjoyable seeing pictures and reading the notes of all whom have gone by the show. I can only hope for more people to visit and connect to the show and its essence which is presenting the boundlessness of art.
And that my friends is how Façade came together.